A song for a team going their own way, and to listen to while reading about the Royals: “Never Follow Suit,” by The Radio Dept.

The 2018 Royals may have lost nearly twice as many games as they won, but they trended in the right direction at the end of the season, capping off their only winning month of the year in September with a 15-13 record. Other than a slight upward tick in batting average on balls in play (BABIP), nothing much appreciably changed about the team’s performance in September, and it’s this core group—along with some key additions—that the Royals will take into 2019.

One of those additions hints at how the organization could find success in the time that remains until baseball’s next collective bargaining agreement. The Royals will yet again enter the regular season without the services of primary backstop and unofficial team captain Salvador Perez. His replacement, Martin Maldonado, won’t quite anchor the team’s offense in the same way Perez has over his career, but Maldonado’s services should be an upgrade in terms of pitch framing and catcher defense, a boon to an unproven pitching staff led by opening day starter Brad Keller and organizational products Jakob Junis and Danny Duffy.

Maldonado comes to the Royals at a significant discount. Whether his light contract represents the failings of an otherwise preoccupied agent or the team’s ability to negotiate, successfully plucking an impact player at a bargain price is a win. The Royals will take any wins they come by.

Baseball teams entering 2019 generally favor power in their players’ bats and arms; the Royals seem content to find it in their players’ legs. Signing Billy Hamilton and bringing back Terrance Gore (their most Effectively Wild player) were the only two significant headlines—aside from a speaking tour of penal facilities—generated this offseason by GM Dayton Moore. The Royals are pinning their hopes for the season ahead on speed and contact, vintage traits for a team that appears constructed as a sense-memory for a bygone style of baseball. Should Gore break camp with the big league club in his return to the Royals, the team will have four of the quickest players in baseball available for crucial baserunning situations. Leverage on the basepaths could, however, prove elusive for a team with this much trouble getting on base. The Royals .305 team OBP was good for 7th worst in baseball last season, putting them just a few ticks above the Marlins, and the 2019 version of the team figures to hover right around that mark. Gore has wondered aloud whether his presence on the basepaths should count as an offensive assist when batters behind him drive in runs. The trouble with that hypothetical is two-fold for this year’s Royals: both getting on base and driving in runs will prove a challenge for the Royals. In order to overcome a projected -123 run deficit, according to FanGraphs Depth Charts, the Royals will need to rely on a dismal constellation of replacement level 4-A guys at the corner infield spots (Hunter Dozier, Ryan O’Hearn) and wild cards (Jorge Soler, Adalberto Mondesi) to give the lineup anything close to resembling a spark behind Whit Merrifield.

FanGraphs has the 2019 Royals projected for 68 wins–just enough to tie the White Sox for dead last in the AL Central. The division should see some compression due to modest off-season gains by the try-anything Twins and a step back for the perennial favorites in Cleveland.

I’m going to give the Royals the edge over the White Sox and put them at an optimistic 70 wins, though I don’t like the team’s chances of rallying at Union Station again any time soon. That the 2019 Royals will be fun to watch at times is a given, but will it be enough to bring bodies back to Kauffman Stadium?

Time is running out for the Royals front office to prove that 2015 wasn’t a fluke, and for deficiencies in the free agent market to net above-replacement abilities at below-replacement cost. On a long enough timeline, a number of factors could break the Royals’ way: experimental rule changes could benefit a contact-oriented style of baseball; arbitration could introduce a salary structure benefiting small-market clubs; and, not least of which, some help from the farm could be ready within the next couple years to help the Royals build around a shaky core of Merrifield and Mondesi. But in the here and now, the Royals look like they’re winging it. Good luck on your good speed, Royals, you’re going to need it.

. . .

The only game I’ve ever attended in person at Kauffman Stadium also happens to be the best ballgame I’ve ever seen first-hand: a Justin Maxwell grand slam off a (no shit?) Joakim Soria meatball in the bottom of the 10th put an end to a nil-nil tie between the Rangers and the Royals. James Shields and Alexi Ogando had engaged in a legitimate pitcher’s duel giving way to each team’s respective relievers.The year was 2014. Boulevard was still an independent brewing concern and the ascendant Royals were the hottest ticket in town.

The impact of the Royals’ 2015 World Series win can still be seen throughout Kansas City and its outlying suburbs. Fan shops and “Made in KC” spirit boutiques line strip malls and the thoroughfares of pedestrian districts like Westport. What’s changed over time is the inventory: where once you’d browse caps and novelty t-shirts in crisp Royal blue and white, now you encounter a sea of red and gold. The Royals don’t yet have their answer to Patrick Mahomes, and even cherished memories are fleeting.

As a lifelong Chicagoan, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of getting to know Kansas City by way of friendships with its sons and marrying one of its daughters.. I’ve witnessed first Google’s fiber network then the 2015 Royals imbue upon the KC Metro Area a well-earned sense of civic pride, and as of this writing all eyes are on the the city again as it receives the Queer Eye glow-up.

Kansas City is a forward-thinking place with a keen understanding that what made it once great (jazz, barbecue) could be, through renewal, more than enough to greet the curious. In the years after the Royals won baseball’s top prize, the city’s tourism bureau, Visit KC, broke travel records and won a U.S. Travel Award for convincing Chicagoans like me (blues, bad pizza) that the city is a worthwhile travel destination. And it is! From the museums (including the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum) to the barbecue to the Green Lady Lounge, you can fill up a weekend fast in Kansas City, and, like in most Midwest metros, what you’ll encounter is living proof that what’s old is new again. The Royals speed-and-contact combo is the aesthetic equivalent of craft moonshine served in a mason jar under an Edison bulb. Let’s see if it catches on.

2019 promo worth the price of admission

Given your enthusiasm for cooking up what we refer to in this household as “emergency pizza” and sipping a funky glass of Tank 7 under the hot summer sun, your best bet for a promo this season is June 8, when the first 10,000 fans to enter Kauffman Stadium will receive a Whit Oven Mitt provided by Papa John’s. No indication on what that’ll look like, but you’ve got to give them props for finding a giveaway that rhymes with Whit.

A haiku for the 2019 Royals, because the editors asked me to:

Adalberto is
my large adult son, lifting
all contact skyward

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